Interview: Ben Lawrence

Nov 29 2023

UK singer/songwriter Ben Lawrence has released his debut record ‘O Wide World’. Louder Than The Music spoke with Ben about the tragic event that inspired this album, the pain of losing his twin brother to cancer. Read on for this inspiring story of Hope through music.

For those who haven't heard of you before, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got involved in making music?

I've been playing guitar and writing songs since about age 12, for reference I'm now 32, so it's been a lifetime of playing and writing, although I feel like I'm only just starting to find my voice.

My brother Dan and I grew up playing in bands together, leading youth groups and also making films, which is what I now do professionally for the Methodist Church of Great Britain as their Digital Content Producer.

Music has been more than a hobby, but less than a career for me - it's always been about connecting with people.

Tell us about your new album 'O Wide World' and what the inspiration behind it was?

In 2016, Dan passed away after a two year battle with brain cancer. As you can imagine, it was an incredibly challenging time for me and my family - but music, and especially writing thoughts into song, became a place of solace for me.

It wasn't until the pandemic hit that I realised that these songs I'd been writing might actually matter to other people too, so I began putting more time into finishing them. Slowly I was able to shape the songs into a three act narrative, that this album follows - a journey through my story.

Which is your favourite track on the album and why?

Ooh that's a great question, one I get asked a lot. I think it changes so often depending on the season I'm in. These tracks are really about my personal journey through grief and my mental health, so sometimes the lyrics of one song hit home again and then at times another might speak to me again - I guess that's the beauty of music, it ebbs and flows.

I find that sometimes I write a song without really fully understanding it, almost prophetically, and then I come back to it a month or a year or two later to find it is summarising my experience in such acute detail that I have to sit up and listen. I think this is where music is at its most powerful and poignant.

So to answer your question, none of them and all of them.

What message would you like people to take from your music?

The final track on the album is called 'Hope', and I think that sums up pretty well what I want people to take from this record. Whatever life is throwing you, whatever you've been through, however challenging your 'head' might be with stress and anxiety and depression - there is still hope. In the song I sing this line a few times:

'Hope was my best friend'.

And on the third time I repeat the phrase but say:

'Hope is my best friend'.

I guess what I'm trying to say through that is, life isn't always happy or fulfilling or just even downright nice - but you can always have hope. If we're talking about even dieing, spiritually, we can always hope in the life to come.

How would you describe your style of music and what are your influences?

I'd describe my sound, in particular on this album, as though it were a mash up between 60's folk and americana and indie pop. 60's music does this thing to me, it feels so honest and authentic, that I just want to sit pluck an acoustic guitar and sing old gospel songs on a porch - but then I listen to the big bright sounds of pop music, synthesizers and punchy electric guitars and I can't help but be drawn to crafting massive ambient soundscapes.

So this album is a bit of all of that and some more. If I were to pick out some big influences it would be bands such as Lord Huron, Gang of Youths and Fleet Foxes - so I spent a lot of time trying to craft sounds on this record that felt like my version of them. There's something quite special I find about combining personal lyrics with anthemic sounds and that's something I really pursued whilst writing this record.

If you could work with any songwriter, who would it be and why?

That's another really tough question. You know, I'm a lifelong Christian, but I have to say that so much of what I see inside the Church feels a little less than authentic at times, which over the years has driven me to listen to those who've maybe had a life inside the Church and then left for various reasons - not because I necessarily agree with their beliefs, but that I hear there point of view and when they pen it into song it feels like their authentic self on view - not a polished megachurch worth version.

With that being said artists such as: Noah Gundersen, Dave Le'aupepe (of Gang of Youths) and Foy Vance spring to mind.

How would you define success in your career as an artist?

You know what, I'm not particularly interested in the traditional sense of 'success' in the music industry, but I am interested in my music connecting with those who need it. I write music because, I figure, I have to or more accurately I need to write about the things that trouble me or cause me pain, so that I can find some meaning in the middle of this life where lots of things feel pretty meaningless.

If there's meaning in what's happening to me, then hopefully there's a purpose to it too and so I hope that my music brings meaning into the lives of those who are listening.

What is your favourite album of all time?

Oh man, another tough question. If it had to be just one, it would be 'Go Farther in Lightness' by Gang of Youths. It's a spotless, heartfelt, beautifully produced masterpiece.

You're stuck on an island, it's hot, you only have enough battery life left to listen to one song on your phone. What track is it?

Tall trees in Georgia - Eva Cassidy. My mum used to play her albums to us all the time, and I find that song to be one of the most beautiful ever written.

What does the next year hold for you?

You know, this album has been thrilling, life affirming and exhausting - haha, so I'm going to take some time out of the grind to breathe a little, spend more time just doing nothing and walking a lot. I'm still writing and working on other creative projects that will be bubbling away under the surface, but as for now I'm not planning on anything too extravagant.

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